Young Professional: Mia Nielsen, The Curator

Meet Notable Young Professional, Mia Nielsen. You will be inspired by Mia’s self-motivation, vision and passion for business.


Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Mia Nielsen, curator and Head of Cultural Programming for The Drake.

Do you know where you got your drive from?
Well, if you’re asking about family, definitely my dad. He was a big personality, would describe himself as a ‘self-made man’, he was always working, building bigger and better things. Personally, I thrive on challenge. My job is full of incredible opportunities to bring art to the public in unusual ways and I sincerely want to make the most of every single one. One of my goals is to create moments of wonder for our audiences and I suppose that starts with my own viewing/audience experience. When I’m moved by a concept to think, my god that is epic, that energy gets me through the barriers (and there’s never a shortage) to see the project to fruition.

How do you stay self-motivated?
I’m surrounded by inspiring people. One of the best things about working with artists and performers is there is always something new, a discovery, an exhibition, a technique, a medium, a sound. It’s never done. That energy is self-fulfilling, every day I have a moment when I think to myself (or say to colleagues), let’s make something awesome. And I always mean it.

What would you say is your preferred way to network?
I love Instagram. It’s an amazing way to connect with artists and creatives from all over the world. But I suppose I’m a bit old fashioned and love to connect in person over coffee or a studio visit and just toss ideas around.

How would you describe your process for deepening relationships?
As a curator and working with artists, I rarely come to a project with much of an idea of what I want the outcome to be, I want to hear from them. I want them to tell me what they see, what they’d like to do and I do everything in my power to support that. The best projects have happened that way – I learn so much about seeing, treating space. That approach creates a real creative space and most importantly, trust.

What are your preferred tools for keeping organized?
Honestly, I work with great people who I think are much more organized than I am. I’m a dreamer, a connector, it’s my job to cultivate the vision and bring the ‘big ideas’ to the table and strategize the best way to get them done. That said, I use google docs a lot because I work on too many projects concurrently to keep notes in a book (even though I miss notebooks). By writing plans, texts, notes in googledocs I can share them with colleagues who help me keep all the details in place.

What is your favourite way to market your product or services?
I don’t have a formula for these things, I think each project deserves a unique strategy. But I really appreciate being able to collaborate with a PR expert, who can find unique angles to tell a story and drive awareness through the media.

Who has been your mentor in helping you find success?
I’ve worked with Jeff Stober (owner of the Drake) for 10 years. It was his vision to have The Drake be a site for culture and he has supported my ongoing vision for culture and often pushed me to go further than I thought I could. Before that, I worked with David Silcox who taught me to trust my eye.

Outside of the art world, my connection with Sue Lee has always been a grounding and inspiring relationship. She’s a titan in the business world and she has always been so supportive, believing in me at times when I wasn’t sure I believed in myself. Again and again, she showed me that determination, hard work and listening to the concerns of others can overcome almost any barrier. 

What social issue does your organization raise funds and/or awareness for?
We’re currently are focusing on Food + Security through our partnerships with Out of the Cold, Second Harvest, Restaurants for Change and Community Food Centres Canada. In addition we have a Youth and the Arts initiative that includes Sketch, Sick Kids, The Dandelion Project, National Gallery of Canada and Theatre Centre, among others.

How and where do you continue to learn?
I’m really lucky in that I work with a lot of people who are deeply connected to different aspects of culture (music, theatre, dance etc) I pay close attention to what they’re into, what they’re listening to, etc.

Do you have a fitness ritual that you live by?
Not really. In addition to working a lot, I’m a single mom and care for elderly parent, so there’s a lot to do in a day and maintaining a workout schedule always seems to slip me by. But I love to ride my bike, I try to ride everywhere most of the year. It clears my head and allows me be active without having to dedicate specific time to it.

How do you feed your soul?
I have the best friends. Seriously, the most wonderful people in my life. We have dinner parties, travel together, see shows, they’re insightful conversation, laughter and shenanigans are the best. But I also love my time alone. There are times I’ll spend a day or two without seeing or speaking to anyone. It’s the balance that is so important to me.

How would you describe the eating ritual that makes you feel most powerful?
I don’t eat for power, I eat for joy. Meals with friends bring me the most joy.

Who is your favourite personality to follow on YouTube?
I don’t have one. Maybe Samantha Bee, because I don’t have a TV, I only see her show on YouTube.

What type of content do you find most compelling on Instagram?
I love following artists, seeing what they’re working on in the studio or installing a new show.

What lifestyle brand would you say shares your values most?
I can’t say I feel connected to a particular lifestyle brand, but I love how Red Bull promotes emerging artists through the Sound Select program.

Who is your favourite artist?
Couldn’t possibly choose just one (and I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting) Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Geoffrey Farmer, Olafur Eliasson, Celia Perrin Sidarous, Ness Lee….

What is your favourite meal?
Depends where I am. At home, I make a killer Coq au Vin, but I love restaurants, and depending what I’m in the mood for I’d say I have fave meals at, Banjara, Pinky’s, Bar Isabelle, or out of town, Estella, Public, Nopi.

What is your favourite sport to watch?
My son skateboarding or playing baseball.

Where is your favourite place to unwind?
A museum or a garden.